Your travel policy is the key to efficient, effective and predictable travel. It should bring together your rules about how staff travel, the use of appropriate suppliers and the processes which ensure safe, within-budget trips. However, just having a policy is not enough, it needs to be followed.
A recent global study showed that almost 85% of travel managers believe they can achieve savings by ensuring compliance. Most see the achievement of compliance – or getting travellers to follow policy – as a major challenge.
Here are some steps you can take to help your travellers make good choices.
Create a formal policy
The first step to compliance is the creation of a formal travel policy. It needs to be detailed and might answer the following questions?
- who can travel
- when they can travel
- who authorises the trip
- which suppliers can be used
- can a car be hired or is it strictly taxis (or Ubers etc.)
- what classes of travel are appropriate
- how many from the organisation can travel together
- who pays for the visa
- who will keep track of the traveller, who needs to know
- what record-keeping is required
- how out-of-pocket expenses are handled
- is there a limit on daily expenditure
- should hotel bookings include breakfast
- can travellers stay the weekend if business finishes on a Thursday or Friday
- what are the exceptions to the rules and when they apply.
Share the policy and make sure staff understand why it exists
The travel policy should be written and distributed to all staff – or at least all potential travellers. This is often done as part of a staff induction process. The policy should, however, also be available on your intranet for those who may have mislaid their original version. Highlight points over the year when data shows a gap in compliance.
Keep everyone updated about changes
Policies are adapted over time as priorities change or suppliers come and go, and these changes need to be reflected in your policy documents and communicated to staff. And staff need to be told when policies change – every single time!
Mandate or buy-in
Organisations have different approaches to driving travel policy compliance. Some have strict codes that are rigorously enforced. This is known as mandating, and is associated with more traditional, authoritarian organisations.
Other businesses are more flexible and try to encourage staff to do the right thing by getting them to “buy in” to the accepted practices.
There has been plenty of research on the effectiveness of both approaches – but the jury is still out. However, whichever approach you adopt, it must be consistent with the way you enforce other policies and procedures, and fit with your travellers (some of whom may be Millennials).
Whichever method you choose, you need to be consistent.
Online booking tools are a useful means of ensuring compliance as they can be set up so that only compliant travel is possible. Non-preferred suppliers or classes of travel can be hidden, allowing travellers to choose from approved vendors only.
See if you can configure your system to flag additional costs during the booking process. This “visual” (seeing the chosen $500 fare when a $350 fare is available) is often enough to encourage travellers to rethink their choice.
Highlighting the impact of non-compliance
Lost savings reports are valuable measures of non-compliance. They show the additional expenses incurred by choosing the wrong supplier, an inappropriate service or last-minute purchasing. However, these reports tend to be generated after the fact, when it’s too late and rarely shared. When staff understand the impact, following policy seems like a good idea.
Reward people for doing it right
Acknowledge – or even reward - those who do things by the book. Some enlightened organisations run competitions or promotions to encourage compliance. For example, staff are rewarded for any savings against budget. These prize campaigns are most effective when they are team-based; for example, offering a social activity to the business unit with the best quarterly performance. By including colleagues, this encourages everyone to take an interest in their peers’ activities. And the bottom line benefit can be a significant multiple of the cost of the prize, even a generous one.
Who's doing it right?
Even organisations which mandate their travel policies struggle to attain full compliance. Often, particular staff or business units feel they are immune. For example, sales teams sometimes argue that because they are revenue-generators and travel a lot, they are entitled to fly business class or stay in five-star properties – even when such classes are prohibited under the policy.
Monitoring travel compliance by department or business unit and sharing the findings with all teams tends to show up non-compliance, and therefore can be effective in reducing it.
Lead from the front
Executives often feel they’re exempt from travel policies. However, if senior management can be encouraged to lead by example, this can make it so much easier for the travel manager to gain widespread adherence to policy. Not only is the example extremely effective in encouraging compliance among others, but there are also significant benefits in getting executives to conform because their trips are generally among the most expensive anyway.
Get your suppliers to help
While suppliers have a clear financial incentive to upsell, they should be encouraged to promote compliance. If they are indeed partners, they should have your organisation’s best interests at heart and should avoid processing non-compliant bookings. By helping you ensure compliance, vendors are also minimising potential conflict with the travel department. The last thing they’ll want is an angry call from a travel manager disputing charges for non-compliant spend.
To sum up...
Your travel policy is your blueprint to an effective travel program. But it will only succeed if you follow it.
Compliance is a measure of how well your organisation is following the plan. The above measures can be readily implemented in any organisation, regardless of size, location or corporate culture.
It’s all about making it easy for travellers to do the right thing and hard for them not to.
If you'd like help reviewing your policy to improve compliance and ensure the success of your travel program, start here.